Dallas — The state of the arts in education may be a somewhat dreary overall, but North Texas and surrounding areas are doing something right, as evidenced by Wednesday night’s showing at the Dallas Summer Musical’s High School Musical Theatre Awards at the Music Hall at Fair Park, presented by J. Baxter Brinkman and Hilary L. Roberts. Young, fresh-faced ladies and gentleman donned their best red-carpet attire for the full celebrity treatment. Nominees even arrived in style in vintage convertibles.
The excitement buzzed throughout the various areas outside the theater, and all of the students had an anxious glow about them in anticipation of the evening’s results.
Many of the judges and presenters seemed to share that same enthusiasm, including special guest presenter and Dallas native and Texas Christian University graduate Curt Mega, who played “Warbler Nick” on Fox’s Glee (and was seen locally in Theatre Three’s The Light in the Piazza, where he met his now-wife, Kimberly Whalen). As a former patron of DSM and active local youth performer, he says, “I feel like I’ve come full circle.”
Others had high praise for the sheer amount of talent in this year’s nominees. Tracy Jordan, executive director of the awards, raved about the ever-growing abilities from the students across these three years.
“I see many kids who I’d hire for a professional show today,” he says. But he’s also pretty complimentary of those still making their way to that level. “You can see what they’re going to grow into. I’ve seen some as sophomores, junior, and now seniors, so I’ve been able to see that arc of growth.”
Emmy-winning broadcaster Steve Noviello, a first-time judge, commended not only their talent but also the students’ work ethic. “Honestly, I was amazed by how committed the kids are.”
He especially had good things to say about the tap dancing he saw. He was one of the judges for St. Mark/Hockaday’s Anything Goes, with its title ensemble number featuring tap, and Hebron High students appeared on Fox 4’s “Good Day” with a sampling from White Christmas.
“Their show was in November,” Noviello said, “and to know that they kept up with rehearsals to be prepared for tonight is incredible and such a sign of dedication.”
After a bit of a delayed start, the awards show began by introducing the participating high schools through video montage then moved to an opening act with the nominees featuring Tony-award nominee and Broadway veteran Vivian Reed. The audience’s zeal shot to an electric high right from the start.
Overall, the program ran like a typical awards show. Nominees waited in anticipation to hear the winners, and individuals were recognized for an outstanding achievement outside of the categories, in this case, scholarship winners. Performances from “Best Musical” and “Best Actor/Actress” nominees were sprinkled throughout, and the night concluded with an all-star finale.
Unlike most awards shows, much of the viewing audience had never seen the specific productions up for nomination, so the performances gave valuable context to some of the more prominent categories. They also became the main attraction of the evening for those not intimately involved in the productions themselves.
Eight schools were up for “Best Musical”, and each brought something different to the table. Waxahachie’s rendition of “Toledo Surprise” from The Drowsy Chaperone was the strongest overall, with a lovely combination of strong vocals, lively choreography, and hilarious characters, but the others were still quite commendable.
Colleyville Heritage presented an upbeat, whimsical moment from Seussical, and Grapevine Faith Christian School charmed us with “Five Forever” from Little Women. A poignant segment from Into the Woods proved Rowlett belongs in the game, and the nuns from Flower Mound’s Sound of Music serenaded us with an angelic chorus from the wedding scene. Wylie High School displayed a hilarious Edna Turnblad and a strong Tracy Turnblad with their sequence from Hairspray, while Hebron High paraded their tap dancing skills with a selection from White Christmas. McKinney High showed us Camelot, Vegas-style, from their entry Spamalot and wound up taking home the award.
I don’t envy the judges who had to decide “Best Actor” this year. When the nine gentlemen took the stage for a medley in which each would sing a tune from his production, the cheers were deafening. Seriously, my ears were hurting. Each actor has such a unique performance quality, and all captured the audience with their vocals, passions, and engaging characters. Most notable (and even this is hard to narrow down) were Wesley Davis (The Cat, Seussical, Colleyville Heritage HS), Ashton Smith (Horton, Seussical, Midlothian HS), Peter Garza (Don, Singin in the Rain, Cooper HS), and the category winner Matthew Haught (Adolpho, Drowsy Chaperone, Waxahachie HS).
The ladies up for leading actress put on a stellar and equally diverse performance, as well, but there were a few clear stand-outs. The sweet soprano voice of Sarah Killian (Marian Paroo, Music Man, Plano West HS) and the assertive tones of Bre Welty (Nina Rosario, In the Heights, Guyer HS) proved rather impressive, but the obvious winner was Kaycee Murto (Lady of the Lake, Spamalot, JJ Pearce HS). Her commanding stage presence and powerful voice could easily land her a professional role right now.
Overall, I am just as amazed as the judges by the amount of talent, and they couldn’t have done it without the tireless work and passionate dedication of their teachers. It was so heartwarming to hear every single winner thank their instructors and mentors. This night may have been about the students, but the people behind performing arts education are the foundation from which these stars rise.
So, North Texas musical theatre educators, I raise my glass. You rock!
Full List of Winners:
Best Featured Performer: Chris Cook as Underling, The Drowsy Chaperone, Waxahachie HS
Best Costume Design: Bishop Lynch HS, My Favorite Year
Best Lighting Design: Plano Senior HS, The Who’s Tommy
Best Scenic Design: Waxahachie HS, The Drowsy Chaperone
Best All-Student Orchestra: Flower Mound HS, The Sound of Music
Best Musical Direction: Cooper HS, Singin’ in the Rain
Best Supporting Actor: Preston Hart as Cinderella’s Prince/The Wolf, Into the Woods, Rowlett HS
Best Supporting Actress: Riley McRae as Mrs. Potts, Beauty and the Beast, McKinney Boyd HS
Best Ensemble: Hebron HS, White Christmas
Best Crew: Wakeland HS, Peter Pan
Best Choreography: McKinney HS, Spamalot
Best Direction: McKinney HS, Spamalot
Best Leading Actor: Matthew Haught as Adolpho, The Drowsy Chaperone, Waxahachie HS
Best Leading Actress: Kaycee Murto as The Lady of the Lake, Spamalot, JJ Pearce HS
Best Musical: McKinney HS, Spamalot
» Read our story about the DSM Awards and how new rules affect the other two local high school musical theater awards here
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